Our top six waterfalls in Milford Sound
It’s the middle of winter here in New Zealand, and lately our local waterfalls have been catching our eye. Increased rainfall means greater, more impressive water volume, and we’ve even been enjoying the appearance of Milford’s ‘mystical’ waterfalls – ones that only appear during rainy days.
We’ve put together a list of our top six waterfalls in Milford Sound– have a read, and be inspired to visit a couple when you stay at Milford Lodge.
Photo credit Martin Sliva
1.Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls
Can be seen from land, boat cruise or kayak
The permanent Lady Bowen Falls is Milford’s highest waterfall at 162m. Not only breathtakingly beautiful, without it Milford Sound couldn’t operate; with it being our sole source of power and water. Occasionally, in heavy rain or dry spells she has a few overflow and underflow problems, leaving us without electricity for periods but her beauty makes up for her occasional flow issues. She quadruples in volume during Milford’s epic storms – one of the best ways to truly enjoy the falls is to stand on the foreshore to feel the spray.
In Maori, the falls are known as Hine Te Awa meaning ‘girl on the river’ after the lower third of the falls that resemble the plumage of the Te Kereru bird (NZ Wood Pigeon).
Photo credit: Martin Sliva
2. Stirling Falls
Can be seen in the distance from the Milford foreshore, but best viewed by cruise or kayak
Milford’s second-highest waterfall is the Stirling Falls, a staggering 151m in height – three times the height of Niagara Falls, but the 1,300m mountain behind displaces this incredible height. This is the famous waterfall that Hugh Jackman ‘jumped off’ in the movie Wolverine. The sheer drop of the Stirling Falls allows boats and brave kayakers to get right underneath – it’s an incredible feeling to have the power of 151m worth of glacial water falling on top of you. Discovered by Captain Stirling, Stirling who discovered the waterfall chose to name the waterfall after himself; less of a gentlemanly move than Captain Bowen who named the Lady Bowen Falls after his wife.
In Māori, the falls are called Wai Manu meaning ‘cloud on the water’. Local tip – venture to the falls in a kayak, then paddle with all your might to get as far under as possible. Letting go and feeling the power pushing you back out is an awesome feeling!
3. The Chasm
Can be seen via short walking track just off the Milford Road
A roaring body of water that drops into a vast abyss, The Chasm is a thundering body of water located just before Milford Sound on the Milford Road. For thousands of years of this volume of water has shaped and sculptured the surrounding rocks, making them bizarrely smooth to touch. Five tourists have braved crossing over the barriers over the last 10 years and tumbling into the roaring hole; luckily all of them survived by being caught in one of the bath-like rocks. However, major evacuation operations were required for all of them, including helicopters and search and rescue teams from Queenstown – so enjoy the view from the platform!
A cheeky Kea once stole a passport from the front seat of a bus, flew over the chasm and dropped it in, cackling the whole time. The Chasm is best during or after heavy rain. Follow the 20-minute trail, stand on top of the bridge and look down!
4. Giant Gates
Only accessible an hours’ hike from the end of the Milford Track
This charismatic 30m waterfall seems to appear from nowhere and is framed by a simple and subtle bush-line. It’s accessible only on an hours’ hike along the famous Milford Track (See our Milford Track Taster Package). Giant Gates Falls drops into a stunning swimming pool; often Milford Track walkers brave the icy temperature on warm days (by this point they are on day 3 without showers, so it’s understandable!) Two sets of Milford locals in 2013 and 2015 pioneered the waterfall in kayaks, bush bashing to the top and hopping in kayaks to fly off the start of the falls.
Giant Gates is known for being a great spot to sit and have a bite to eat and hot cup of tea – her gentle breeze keeps the sandflies away.
Residents of Giant Gates include a healthy population of Weka’s. At the right time of year the Weka chicks will try to share your lunch with you!
Highly recommended: Do the Milford Track Taster half day walk in summer, take a seat at the base of the waterfall, enjoy a hot cup of tea and story from your guide whilst embracing the contrasting elements of the warm sun and the glacial spray. Bliss.
5. Four Sisters
Only seen during Milford’s rainy days from a boat cruise
The Four Sisters are mystical waterfalls that only appear during Milford’s rainy days – four identically sized waterfalls line up along a mountainside; appearing seemingly out of thin air. Often, the Four Sisters have mysterious rainbows filtering through them.
On the right day during a boat cruise, your on-board nature guide (See the Encounter Nature Cruise) will get right underneath with a tray of empty glasses allowing you to have a drink straight from the source – the purest & best water in the world! Myth tells us water from the Four Sisters will make you look 10 years younger.
6. Humboldt Falls
Accessible via 40-minute walking track from the Hollyford Road
In the greater Fiordland region lies the Humboldt Falls, located in the Serpentine Range; a 20-minute walk from the end of the Hollyford Road. The waterfalls tumbles down the mountainside in three huge leaps and is 275 meters tall. Included in New Zealand’s official ‘Must See Waterfalls’ list, the waterfall is only viewable from a viewing platform.
There is parking at the end of the Hollyford Road, where the well-maintained 40-minute Humboldt Falls Track begins. If you are visiting in the middle of a rainy period, one or more waterfalls will show up on either side of the Humboldt Falls – more bang for your buck!